Join host Robert Strock in an interview with guest Alan Graham, founder of Community First! Village and Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF) of Austin, Texas. Graham organized and runs a permanent community that offers permanent housing to the unsheltered. However, 20 percent of residents are there voluntarily, coming from a wide range of successful backgrounds. The key to the community’s success is the acceptance of everyone for where and who they are in their journey. Graham’s time feeding and housing the unsheltered has brought home the importance of one-on-one connection with people. Learning to see and care for the unsheltered as brothers and sisters helps everyone feel valued and like they belong.
In the 20s and 30s, caring for the unsheltered fell to the government, using a transactional versus a relational model. Going forward, efforts need to move toward relational, seeing people as people and loving them for it. Part of that relational quality is welcoming those with mental health issues into permanent communities, helping to address their needs while accepting them for who they are. Everyone, unsheltered or not, desires a purposeful life where they’re valued. To reach the same success that’s been reached at Community First!, there are needed changes in attitudes toward the most vulnerable. If we can learn to embrace and integrate service to the homeless into our societal culture, we can better understand and assist those in need.
Mentioned in this episode
Mobile Loaves and Fishes/Community First!
The People Concern
PRI – Program Related Investments
The Global Bridge Foundation
Note: Below, you’ll find timecodes for specific sections of the podcast. To get the most value out of the podcast, I encourage you to listen to the complete episode. However, there are times when you want to skip ahead or repeat a particular section. By clicking on the timecode, you’ll be able to jump to that specific section of the podcast
The Missing Conversation, Episode 12.
Robert Strock: (00:05)
All of us could be anybody. All of us could be born in a country that’s at war or that’s starving, there’s famine, and the deeper we understand that the harder it is to separate from anyone and to not want to take care of everybody as if they’re us.
On this podcast, we will propose critical new strategies to address world issues, including homelessness, immigration, amongst several others, and making a connection to how our individual psychology contributes and can help transform the dangers that we face. We will break from traditional thinking, as we look at our challenges from a freer and more independent point of view. Your host Robert Strock has had 45 years of experience as a psychotherapist, author, and humanitarian, and has developed a unique approach to communication, contemplation, and inquiry born from working on his own challenges.
Robert Strock: (01:07)
Hello, everyone. I’d like to wish you a very warm welcome back to The Missing Conversation. I hope you’ve been inspired by our prior episodes on homelessness and looking to bring permanent housing for the homeless, starting in Los Angeles as a model for the larger cities throughout the country, along with other support services, something that would be a very new reality as I scanned the country and the world for places where similar programs were happening to the best of my knowledge, very few places are even trying to make larger permanent housing in an alternative way. But today we’re going to have the opportunity to meet a very special guest, the founder of Community First, Alan Graham from Austin, Texas, their work will be broadcast in the upcoming documentary Community First, a home for the homeless, being presented by NPR. I really look forward to diving in now with Alan to see how he did it, how the project is created and a community of loving individuals who have found a home that is palpable and the love that it emits.
Robert Strock: (02:27)
We’re also going to ask Alan to share his wisdom and his thoughts about our ideas and what we’re creating in Los Angeles, utilizing a different kind of model for larger cities with a lot of overlaps. Of course, he’ll just be able to respond to the ideas as he doesn’t really know the programs and people we’re referring to given that he’s in Austin and we’re, we’re in Los Angeles. First, I’d like to introduce Dave, my very, very closest friend for 50 years. We’ve done all of our travels together, psychologically, uh, programs, relationships, and he’s also the co-president of the Global Bridge Foundation.
David Knapp: (03:08)
Pleasure to be here and looking forward to hearing what Alan has to say about what he’s doing and, and his feedback about what other possibilities are in Los Angeles and larger cities by way of further introduction. Alan is the founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
Robert Strock: (03:30)
MLS is a social outreach ministry committed to providing permanent sustainable solutions for the chronically homeless while surrounding them with compassion, love, and dignity. Those who know Alan best know that he is a man on a mission to relieve the struggles homeless individuals face in obtaining their basic needs of food, community, and a place to call home since its founding in 1998, Mobile Loaves and Fishes volunteers have served more than 5 million meals, giving hope and a home to homeless men and women living on the streets of Austin. The organization has also spawned similar food, truck ministries, and other cities across the United States with the support of more than 19,000 volunteers. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is the largest prepared feeding program for the homeless and working poor in Austin, Texas. Graham is also the visionary behind MLS Community First Village, a 27-acre master plan development that provides affordable permanent housing and the supporting community to the chronically homeless in central Texas. Allen is also a published author of the book, Welcome Homeless, One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home. Alan, welcome to show we’re really excited to hear more about your journey and efforts to serve the homeless community.
Alan Graham: (05:12)
It’s great to be here, Rob. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it guys. And, uh, we’re now a 51-acre master plan community, need to update that bio somehow, and about to expand, uh, by an additional 126 acres. So it’s turning into a pretty large, uh, little endeavor there. Great to be here though.
Robert Strock: (05:34)
Correct. Maybe you could give us a brief sense of what the initial spark of inspiration was for this.
Alan Graham: (05:41)
Well, uh, in a lot of ways, the subtitle to that book, One Man’s Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home. Uh, my original suggestion to, uh, Harper Collins was, uh, one, uh, one, One Idiots Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home, that’s, uh, but they wouldn’t go for that. And that’s, that’s the truth. Um, look, I came out of a dysfunctional family, um, ended up in a very functional family. Uh, long-term marriage, multiple children, uh, finding myself on the streets, uh, loving on, uh, people that didn’t have, what I currently had, uh, but came from something relatively similar to where I came from and really through an organic, interactive process over time and continuing, uh, that journey, uh, really felt like we discovered what it is that, that humans really need. Didn’t discover it just re, rediscovered it. It, it’s always been out there. So, um, it’s that simple and we, and we continue to learn as we move along in this, uh, in this journey.
Robert Strock: (06:59)
Well, it’s, it’s really, uh, helpful to understand that you came from, uh, a challenging family and you were able to find the resources, um, to be able to find your way. And I think many people have and many people haven’t and I think it plays into, from what I understand what your dominant experiences of what causes homelessness.
Alan Graham: (07:27)
Well, we believe that the single greatest cause is a profound, catastrophic loss of family. Uh, and when you look at the numbers, no matter how you, uh, dissect that data and no matter what description you use for homeless, chronically homeless, transitionally, homeless, whatever that is, um, it all, it all amounts to, uh, you know, low one hundreds of 1% of our entire population, the overwhelmingly vast majority 99.8, 99.5% of people never find themselves homeless. And, uh, uh, yeah, I think it’s important Rob, to understand that even you and I, uh, metaphorically you and I, but our culture, in general, find ourselves homeless today, no matter what structure we might be able to occupy. Uh, as I’ve told many people before, uh, in order to do what we do, we have to, uh, have heavily resourced donors. And I’ve been in some of the most extraordinary homes ever built and met some of the most homeless people that you will ever meet. And conversely, I’ve been under bridges, uh, where I’ve met, uh, some of the poorest people that you’ve ever met, uh, but in reality, the least homeless people. Um, so we really, I think have to get a handle on this human-to-human, heart-to-heart connectedness. And I think we’re, we’re missing culturally in this country and the pandemic of that loss we’re, we’re seeing visibly out on the streets.
Robert Strock: (09:23)
Yeah. One of the things that you alluded to is something that we at the Global Bridge had been saying during our skid row program is that all of us could be anybody. All of us could be born in a country that’s at war or that’s starving, this famine and the deeper we understand that the harder it is to separate from anyone and to not want to take care of everybody as if they’re us. And I know that we share that in common on a heart level, and really appreciate that I’d like to dive in if you could give us just a real nitty-gritty of what you believe your program uniquely offers that makes it really create the compassion, the love that that is really obvious to see, especially as I watched the documentary.
Alan Graham: (10:20)
Well, uh, the absolute simple answer to that is that our model is a relational model and not a transactional model. So that’s the, that’s the line. Um, and what does that mean? Well, we think culturally that, um, we can house people and cease their homelessness. But the homelessness is rooted in something that’s profoundly different than what a house is. And, and, and homelessness is rooted really into the human connectedness, uh, between people that, uh, fully and wholly love each other and then fully and wholly, uh, value, uh, each other, that, that would be one thing. The other is that, uh, we have over time in about the past four generations, 80 years, maybe more, uh, have abdicated our responsibility to care for the least of the, uh, to the government, uh, that began in the 1920s and the 1930s, and continues to expand, uh, uh, to this day, uh, where we want government to go in there and fix these problems. And if you look at it being relational, it’s really impossible in my humble opinion, for the government to be relational, they can be very transactional and can be a partner with those of us. That must be relational in order to accomplish this task. But, uh, it really all boils down to, uh, men and women want to be fully and wholly loved and they want to be fully and wholly known.
Robert Strock: (12:10)
I, I think as you’re saying relational, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re, you’re really talking about heart relational. You’re really talking about, um, honoring valuing. And I’m curious if you could give me a one minute answer, cause I’m really curious about this, whether you believe if your program were to be duplicated, you need a founder, you need a team to just start the contagion of love and, and how you feel like it happened there.
Alan Graham: (12:46)
Yeah. So for us, it began, uh, with the founding of the food truck ministry on the streets, uh, back in 1998, uh, us going out on the streets and meeting the homeless where they were, and that’s where the relationship began, those that were going out on the truck and those that were being served, we’re on the same side of the serving counter, which required that one-on-one relationship. So it all began there. And then it moved into the street retreats, going out and spending the night on the streets. I have personally now spent about 250 to 300 nights on the streets with my friends and that deepens our relationships. You know, it was a sleepover, uh, with our friends, just like we did when we were growing up as kids. Uh, but now, uh, their home where the wall is streets of downtown Austin essentially. And so really Rob it was that , that simple, it was just connecting with people, learning their names and then realizing, uh, that they didn’t meet the stereotype that we as a culture lay over the top of it.
Robert Strock: (13:55)
Yeah. I mean, in a sense, what you’re saying is you literally were practicing. I could be you, you could be me, I’m treating you as a brother or sister. I’m going to join you on the same side of the, of, of wherever we are with whether we, where we sleep and you’re going to join their reality for an extended period of time with food, with sleep. And that’s so important as a fundamental message.
Alan Graham: (14:21)
Yeah, the only caution that I would, I would say there is a, when we treat someone as a brother and a sister, uh, you know, when I think about my three brothers and growing up, uh, you know, my mom had to buy boxing gloves and headgear in order for us to deal with, uh, uh, what was going on in our house and the, uh, the myriad of times that the couches were being turned over and plates were being broken. And, and, and so, um, that interaction must include that level of attention.
Robert Strock: (14:56)
Alan Graham: (14:56)
Uh that’s you know, so a lot of people want to see butterflies and the birds and the bees out of all that stuff, but that’s not reality.
Robert Strock: (15:06)
Yeah. Well, I, I couldn’t agree with you more. Uh, when I was speaking of brothers and sisters, I meant essential brothers and sisters, not, not . . .
Alan Graham: (15:14)
No, I know what you mean.
Robert Strock: (15:17)
Not necessarily normal. I won’t get too personal with my own family, but, um, but certainly every family has brothers and sisters, not every family, but most families have brothers, sisters, or parents where they have a story. And so we’re really talking about being essential brothers and sisters.
Alan Graham: (15:35)
And vulnerable to each other.
Robert Strock: (15:37)
And vulnerable to each other, exactly.
David Knapp: (15:39)
I’d like to, to jump in Robert, I know you’ve been doing a deep dive into, uh, Los Angeles specifically, and generally, uh, interacting with people that are trying to see how to scale in a larger city and how you, you know, and, and studying what Alan is doing, hearing directly, conversing with Alan, uh, understanding what Austin, uh, is, has manifested in and is growing into and seeing what those contrasts are and what you’re finding. And, and just, I’m just curious to see how you’re seeing what’s going on in this environment here in Los Angeles. And then I would love to hear how you bounce some of the things you’re seeing off of Alan and see what his takes are.
Robert Strock: (16:31)
That’d be great. And first I want to say, Alan, I know you can’t respond with a deep validation because you don’t know the players well enough. So I want to honor that. So we’re really looking more for whether you think the idea has merit, if it’s well-lived, if it’s, if it’s lived authentically, if it really is what I’m saying and give me the benefit of the doubt for a second, uh, that it might be not that it is. Okay. So part of what we’ve seen in a large city like Los Angeles is with approximately a hundred thousand homeless people, is the necessity to really identify some of the different groups, because if you mix them all together, if you mix single women with people who have severe addictions or psychiatric, um, schizophrenia or various other, uh, maladies, um, you won’t really be able to take advantage of the specific needs. So one of the key things is trying to utilize the advantage of the largeness of Los Angeles. And you might have 2,000 people here, 2,000 people there and target the concerns, the underemployed and unemployed, which is going to obviously vastly increase with COVID are going to need to have access to the services and be close to town.
Robert Strock: (17:56)
And whereas people that are trying to get, deal with addiction or deal with maintaining while their schizophrenia maybe being able to contribute in various small ways, that would be set up. Those are things that we’re really highlighting. Uh, there’s an organization called People Concern, uh, that is permanently housing between 2,000 and 3,000 people right now, have an extremely comprehensive program and they’re trying to, within the restraints of the city zoning requirements, which are very difficult. And I know from what we’ve discussed in Texas, it’s very different trying to work within the government to loosen the, uh, requirements so that some of these programs, um, can be, uh, done in an affordable way. So they don’t have to go through all the bureaucracy and the, and, and basically can have a home because of the way zoning is set up right now, it will not allow a home, um, and be able to use tiny homes, uh, be able to use, uh, uh, a foundation like grid alternatives, which is a foundation dedicated to solar energy.
Robert Strock: (19:11)
Um, and being able to you use something that Ted Lui, who is somebody I recently met, who has ecosystems in six continents throughout the world, setting up a community of people that are able to implement that as the strategy, hand-selected people that they may be underemployed, unemployed, but being able to do something for the environment, clean out the forest. I, you know, that have been, that have burnt and been able to set them up. Obviously, they would need to be in trailers that could get away quickly, but these are some of the ideas that we are, um, implementing, um, through People Concern, um, through what they’re doing and various other programs, but being able to try to do something that can actually go to scale.
Alan Graham: (19:58)
Well, innovation and experimentation is something that I believe very profoundly, and in the government it’s not used to innovation and experimentation. So, um, if we want to invite the government in, I think it, it’s, it’s, it’s going to take them to realize that innovation and experimentation are, are key. So I honor all that. When you talk about scale, uh, you know, what, what is that in, in terms of, of humanity, what is human scale? And, and so ultimately when we’re done with our 175 acres or whatever there’ll be 18-1,900 people, uh, living within that, that, that that’s not a human scale, right? Uh, if you look at yourself and Dave, as an example, uh, he’s your best bud for 50 years, you might have one or two more of those kind of relationships on the human scale, even though we might know, and have met a lot of people.
Alan Graham: (21:04)
And so as Mobile Loaves and Fishes continues to expand, we’ve come across a term called, “Neighborhoods of Knowingness,” and we believe, and we don’t know the precise number and it’s variable but call it around 40 to 60 people. It can’t be hundreds of people. We know that, but around 40 to 60 people, living in a neighborhood of knowing this and perhaps rooted in some areas of common affiliations and belonging. Um, and so I know that in LA with a hundred thousand people, uh, living homeless, they’re going to have to get aggressive on scale, but, uh, very smart people can come in and figure out how within the context of that scale, the built environment can meet the human needs of these neighborhoods of knowing this. Now that’s the response to the scale issue on the service issue. I will tell you that if you build, uh, a facility that has housing, whoever it is that you’re housing, 30 miles outside of the center core of LA or name the distance, the service was, will follow you. They will all come. That’s a guarantee. Uh, they will be forced in to coming out and, uh, and serving you. So, uh, I would not be afraid of that particular, uh, issue. Uh, they have flocked to us and, um, we’re, we’re not, we’re not in the downtown core, or in the corridor, or where all the services were, but now they’re all out by us.
Robert Strock: (22:55)
So, but that’s, that’s, that’s encouraging to hear the following. And I, and I do think that the number you’re moving towards the 1,800 is interestingly similar to what we have envisioned for various communities. And what you said about belonging is so utterly important, because if you have a vet community, the sense of belonging within the vet community is, would, is so profound. And especially if you have people seeding the love, uh, to help sort of get it kick-started, The sense of safety, the sense, the sense of respect, the sense of interesting, interested in, in, in the stories that are happening, the needs, the wounds, all of those things are so crucial to be able to have that community of love and caring and, and yet being grounded enough to realize there are tremendous obstacles, uh, with, with government restrictions, with changing habits. Um, you know, initially I, uh, I haven’t given up on a totally, but initially really thought what Governor Newsom had offered, which was 300 plots of land for a dollar lease for any programs for homelessness would be ideal, uh, in looking at lots of land, none of them are expansive or enough. And so we’re still going to be looking for that, but primarily we are agreeing with you that we’re going to have to really rely on the philanthropic community to be the dominant player. And if we’re lucky, we’ll, we’ll be able to find a few, uh, political figures that will be very sympathetic. We see the problem will be practical, but I’m not counting on it.
Alan Graham: (24:33)
Well, what we’re discovering, uh, and I believe this to be true is that, uh, capital dollars are relatively easy to raise philanthropically. Uh, Nope, raising money is hard. So, uh, but I think underneath the right vision, uh, and the right passion, capital money will flow to these areas because people want to do that. They don’t believe that that money should flow through the government. And, uh, to, to us here in Texas, right now, as we’re watching California and an extraordinary Exodus of people, and I saw some data today on the, on the cost of renting a U-Hall, uh, from, uh, LA, San Francisco, uh, to Austin, Dallas or Houston, versus renting one from Austin, Dallas or Houston, to go back to, uh, LA uh, the delta or LA or San Francisco that the delta is huge. It’s like $5,000, uh, uh, to come here and about a thousand bucks to go there.
Alan Graham: (25:49)
Uh, Oracle just announced they’re moving their corporate headquarters here. Elon Musk is, uh, uh, has already made that commitment, moved his foundation here. Uh, and a lot of it has to do with this taxing, you know, the government thinking that it’s going to go and take that money, uh, you know, from extremely rich people, we have one person that came out of Silicon Valley right now that believes they’re going to save $100 million in 2021 through, through not being taxed. Um, and look, I’m not trying to condemn California at all. I love California, I have family in California. The point is, is that if we want to mitigate this, it’s up to you and I to do this. And then we go to the government and seek, uh, uh, support from them because on the, on the OPEX, the operating side of things, that’s where I think government can be really beneficial.
Robert Strock: (26:49)
Yeah. Great. Dave . . .
David Knapp: (26:51)
I wanted to ask, I wanted just to go back one step and ask you within that 18, what will be come 1,800, 2,000 people in your community that yet, the core 40 to 60 people, and thinking within that 2,000 people with 1,500 people, how, how do you, how do you manage that, that those, those groups of people in that small, let’s say togetherness, but within a larger group, because I know if that turns out to be the paradigm that really must close to that at least must work, it’s, it’s even a more enormous issue out here.
Alan Graham: (27:37)
Well, um, 20% of the neighbors that live in our community are here missionally. They they’ve never been homeless. So we have literally titans of industry, have presidents of multi-billion dollar international corporations. We have physicians, nurses, uh, school teachers, architects, retired people that had lived here that live here in this community and have done so long-term now, um, you have to create a built environment that invites people into that. So section eight housing and these developments for people who live in poverty, don’t achieve that. But we’ve, we, we have, we have achieved that with the built environment. So that, uh, is a critical component. Secondly, it’s going to require a lot of staff. I mean, you, you, uh, you know, when you elevate, uh, you know, from where we are now to where we will be there, uh, you know, this organization here will move from a, uh, on a, just an operating only, not counting our capital side of $6 million a year operation to a $20, $25 million a year operation.
Alan Graham: (28:52)
And that kind of money becomes harder, uh, to raise, but you got to have the staff, uh, you gotta have, uh, to us, uh, the people that have never been homeless that are kind of the eyes and ears in these neighborhoods of knowingness. Um, that’s why I think it’s important as people move down this, uh, journey, uh, to take a look at what we’ve done and to figure out, you know, how that can be replicated and then how it can be built upon, uh, are added to, uh, depending on where people are culturally. So, uh, I think it’s doable, uh, not much different than how we’ve all evolved, uh, over the anthropologically, over the course of, uh, uh, you know, thousands of years where we were in these little pods moving across and how do we create those pods, those forged families, um, and it will, it will not be shameless.
Robert Strock: (29:58)
So Al, Alan, I would like to make one brief comment and then ask for three quick questions. And as crisp an answer you can give just so we can really get as much of, of what you have to share in, uh, first, first of all, I think it was very moving, the evolution that you’ve shared of starting with the homeless community, and then other people starting to call saying, I’m living in a trailer and I miss community. I think I’d love to live in a community more than I’d like to live on my own. And, and just the, the realization and the perception for our audience to see how hungry people are for a community of love, versus living in an isolated existence in the world. And then on top of that, having some wealthy folks in your community to say, Hey, you know what I think I want to, I want to sell my home and come and be part of your community, that it goes way beyond the idea of housing the homeless because then it starts to really show the sameness that we all have. So I really want to honor that and kind of foster the conversations you share with me. So the first question I’d like you to kind of pinpoint is how do you deal with the mental health aspects in the community?
Alan Graham: (31:18)
Well, uh, first of all, we welcomed the mental health aspects, uh, into the community. And, um, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s all about being inculcated into who they are so that, uh, their behaviors, um, really appear to be normal, uh, because it’s such an everyday part of what we do. So if, uh, Adam is going to spend all day walking around, uh, you know, uh, our block in shot of our community, moving his hands everywhere and talking, and then somebody would say, uh, Hey Adam, you got a second and his response is, no, I’m busy talking to myself right now.
Alan Graham: (32:05)
That has to be, that has to be something that that’s just part of who we are now, look, uh, you know, sometimes it breaks out into real, uh, what appears to be psychotic behavior. And we have to lean into, uh, the mental health people that are on-site or the crisis intervention team or the sheriff’s department, uh, uh, that’s out there to come and help us, uh, manage these sayings, if people are off their meds, you know, with crack cocaine piled on top of being off the meds, um, w we’re going to need some help in that deal. And so that, that would be, you know, how we approach that.
Robert Strock: (32:46)
Yeah. Well, I, I want to kind of frame that and feel free to disagree with me, but I think you’ll agree that there’s such a profound acceptance of the core of the individual that perhaps for the first time in their life, they feel an energy around them. That’s letting them be as they are. And then if I’m hearing what you’re saying is if it goes over a line where it’s really going to be destructive to the community or dangerous to the self, then you’re going to bring in the mental health experts may, maybe, maybe you or the, or the sheriff, or whatever’s needed, and maybe even make some attempt before, but no matter whether the attempt works or not, they’re embraced in the community as they are.
Alan Graham: (33:24)
Yeah. Well, that’s exactly right. And there’s an example. I mean, we had a fellow that we got a call and, uh, you know, he was on his front porch with his pants down and his happy little friend swinging in the wind. And, you know, you, you’ll live anywhere in our city and 911 would be called and the police would come, they would arrest him, potentially charged him with the sex crime. With us, we said, Hey, Jeff, pull your pants up, bro. And he looks down, and he goes, oh, and you know, pulls his pants up and then we’ll connect him, you know, with the onsite services to figure out what’s going on. But there was no harm, no foul. Everybody’s seen the happy little friend before, so it’s not, it’s not over. Uh.
Robert Strock: (34:11)
Alan Graham: (34:11)
Robert Strock: (34:12)
Exactly. Okay. And, and what about vocational development and optimizing the potential for those that really have skills development or the possibility of some kind of services or being able to maximize their potential?
Alan Graham: (34:27)
Well, uh, our, our fundamental feeling is that every human wants to be purposeful. They want to be valued. And, um, and we feel in our population that, uh, uh, most of our friends are a little micro entrepreneurs. Uh, they’re ADD, uh, you know, and I’m painting a broad brush here. Um, but you know, they’re not going to go work an eight-hour gig at a bar. Uh, but, um, they’d sell something for three or four hours or they sit and put a red/green on a black bead and make earrings and sell those, or go into the pottery operation or fine art, cause we have a number of Van Goghs that, uh, live on the streets. Our feelings are, is that, uh, um, you know, there’s a lot of creativity pent up and people that battle profound mental health issues. And we want to go mine that and Van Gogh, who I, is my go-to, cause he was, uh, uh, he had some issues. Um, and so, um, in the chronically homeless population, it’s a matter of meeting people where they are, uh, you know, on the employment side, I don’t think it’s necessarily retraining them, you, you’ve always heard that you can give a man a fish and he will eat for the day. But if you teach him how to fish, he will fish for a lifetime. I don’t like that phrase. We have one that our friends know how to fish, how do we get them the license to fish? They’re already gifted. They got stuff, they’re not dumb. Yeah.
Robert Strock: (35:59)
So you, you, you utilizing their own best natural resources and, and just optimizing them. Yeah. Just one quick question there. Do you have any people that come from the outside that also try to give guidance in that area? Or do you pretty much respond to that inner community just serving that function?
Alan Graham: (36:18)
Uh, no. Uh, we would welcome. I mean, our vision statement is that we inspire communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless. So it’s, it’s necessary to bring in the broader community. So, uh, you take our pottery operation, which is second to none. I mean this right here. I don’t know if you could see this, hang on.
Robert Strock: (36:43)
Yeah, I don’t, I don’t think our audience will be able to see it, but . . .
Alan Graham: (36:45)
Yeah, no, I know, but I’m just showing you this potter, uh, was hand done by a woman that had two years ago had never done pottery. And, uh, I bought that at the market recently, uh, beautiful for a lot of money, 1,200 bucks and, and, um, and, uh, and she’s really gifted. So, uh, but that happened because people that are gifted in pottery and clay, making the artists came in and helped us build that program.
Robert Strock: (37:17)
Yeah. I had, one of the people on our, uh, staff and extended support network has, calls her thing, living your gifts. Um, and basically it sounds very compatible to that. Um, last question, uh, on this round or this area is if you are going to capsulize what you think the greatest challenges are maybe other than more and more philanthropic money, because I think that that will probably always be a challenge, but if there’s any other challenges at all, that you still are kind of looking to nail down or maybe not nailed down, but let’s say make progress in, what would you say?
Alan Graham: (37:57)
Uh, not in my backyard, brother. It’s, uh, it’s a, it’s the culture of, uh, our nation that, uh, that is vehemently opposed to the work that you want to do and that everything else is a drop in the bucket, raising more money, building buildings, doing all those kinds of things. Those will happen when the community begins to recognize and welcome the opportunity to do this and to do it in our backyard. And, and literally, uh, it should be literally in my backyard, I should be willing to build an ADU in my backyard and I’ll partner it, yeah, and have people move into my home that otherwise wouldn’t be, we have to change the culture.
Robert Strock: (38:43)
Yep. I agree with ya there. One of the things that we’ve talked about, which I’m very, uh, let’s say, inspired and interested in, and sharing notes at some point, is you’re preparing a paper over the next year. And so are we on, on how, you know, how basically, uh, the homelessness situation is in our country? And, and, and I know one of the features you’re going to be displaying and we are too, is that the cost of the average homeless person to the county, to the state, to the government in Los Angeles is somewhere around $4,000 a month. And I know you have your figures in Austin and that when you look at what it’s costing per month with what your care is, you, you show how it’s not only that you can create a place where homeless can be not on the streets and not only a place where they can learn to love, but actually the costs are delusional in terms of the way the perception is in the community. So I’m curious what you might have to say about any, maybe even some of the more controversial things of what you’re, what you would want to be saying that you feel comfortable sharing. If, if you do.
Alan Graham: (40:04)
Well, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll say two things. We’ve looked at all those numbers. We’ve studied them all over the US, we’ve studied them here in Austin. And, uh, uh, and, and, and the preponderance of that cost, uh, allegedly is in the healthcare system. Um, when you, when you really talk to people in the healthcare system, not in the government system, they dispute those numbers. And, um, and so I don’t, I don’t think the data is set that that will allow anyone to compellingly argue that we’re going to say a ginormous amount of the money. Uh, maybe they can. Uh, but I don’t think so, because I know that when you bring somebody up off the streets and begin to settle them in our population, we discover, uh, comorbid diseases that they didn’t even know that they had. And now we’re getting them into the medical deal.
Alan Graham: (41:09)
That’s going to cost our system money because they have no money. Um, and so, uh, and then the other thing is, is that government has a claw around their money. It, it, it is an unbelievable clause. It’s not like this benevolent, uh, oh man, we’re going to, we’re going to give you money because you’re going to prove to us that you got Billy up off the streets and it saved us, uh, this amount. Um, uh, um, I’m not seeing that work. And, uh, and because, you know, politician A, uh, has got transportation, it’s their deal and politician B wants more bike lanes and politician C wants more mental health for people. And there’s just this extreme competition for all that money. Now we developed something called the philanthropic retake return on investment, the PROI, and, uh, government has a hard time, uh, demonstrating a positive return on investment for the money that day, but that they may, but we have developed one, uh, that multiplies, uh, your deal that, um, I think is a compelling argument to the philanthropists that are gonna be interested in your deal, uh, the way that our model that works and the way that I believe the model that you’re proposing there are, you know, that’s operating their works of where they’re, they’re so much more return when private money comes into the deal.
Alan Graham: (42:57)
Then when government money comes into the deal, and we’ve, that’s a whole nother conversation, but it’s, uh, uh, we’ve got all of our data and it’s compelling.
Robert Strock: (43:07)
Yeah, well, I, I, I think that the, uh, what you’re describing is a kissing cousin to PRI’s project-related investments, uh, through foundations, uh, that do have a return and an element of impact investing. And we’re, we’re very involved with both. As a matter of fact, People Concern, it is using, um, something that’s akin to that B corporation, where people are willing to get a lesser return on their money, uh, with some social welfare. And that’s the principle understanding of the corporation is that social welfare is number one, profits number two. So if I, if I’m helping in some way, and I think it’s very similar to what you’re describing, um . . .
Alan Graham: (43:53)
It, it it’s, it there’s some pretty, uh, it would be great, and we’ll have this conversation at some point in time and I’ll get on the phone, but it’s, uh, it doesn’t have anything to do what they, even the low financial rate of return. It, it really has to do with what we call a multiplier impact of investing a dollar. It’s just too much to go through right now, but I’d love to go over it some time.
Robert Strock: (44:17)
I, I welcome that for sure. Um, so I, I wanted to mention that when I watched the documentary, that’s going to be shown on, uh, NPR in February. Um, I cried through of it, uh, because the thing that was so clear, uh, was, uh, the degree of being touched. And you could see people walking around with their, I can’t remember your exact words, but their friend, little friendly, little player. Uh, I didn’t see that exactly, but I saw, I saw the equivalents and, and then the stories of people getting a tiny home or getting a, getting a place to live that was really a home and not being able to sleep on the beds for a few weeks, because feeling so unnatural, um, those kinds of scenes are so moving and the expression of love from a space that you could tell was not what we would in our society called normal, but you would also say the love is not normal. The love is paranormal and, and, and the unique gifts that each of them has, maybe not every single one, but the vast majority of them have is something that isn’t to be anticipated. So I know we join in seeing that uniqueness in the human being if we look deeply enough and we surrounded with enough self-sufficiency and, and, uh, a home to live.
Alan Graham: (45:44)
NPR, by the way, is national public radio. And so hopefully this is going to be on TV, PBS. Yep.
Robert Strock: (45:53)
Yeah. Yup. Thank you for clarifying that. So, overall, I just want to thank you very much for, uh, joining our show. Maybe it would be helpful if you just let people know how they could get a hold of you, and if they wanted to be supportive of your program and hopefully a lot of people would, uh, how would they do that?
Alan Graham: (46:13)
Well, you could go to our website at, uh, MLf.org. That’s Mike Lima, frank.org. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org and, um, uh, yeah, love to, love to host people out here, hopefully, uh, that vaccine will be available here any day now. So.
Robert Strock: (46:38)
Yeah, and one thing I want to add to your, uh, invitation is in the non-COVID times, and hopefully, they’re going to be, uh, somewhere toward the end of the summer of next year, from the way it sounds that I know that you invite people to come and stay at your place for a few days to really get a feel for what’s happening, what, what you’re doing and how they experience it. And I think perhaps any of the donors that might want to donate to you might find that to be a very inspiring experience.
Alan Graham: (47:09)
Yeah. We’d love to have them out, anybody out, no matter who you are. So phone number, no donor. Yep.
Robert Strock: (47:14)
Yep. And, and I also want to invite people if they want to know more about what is being organized in Los Angeles, that can go to the globalbridge.org or robertstrock.org, and able to see, get a feel for being able to ask questions or how they could contribute as well. Alan, I want to thank you again for joining us, and I want to thank everyone for, for their attention and really look forward to continuing down the path of a bracing, a large scale alternative to permanent supportive housing for the homeless and continue this in future episodes, uh, with similar other themes. So again, thank you, Alan. Thank you to everyone that’s listening. It’s really grateful to join in the spirit of recognizing that we’re all more one in some kind of mysterious way than we can possibly imagine, and that, uh, to be able to be active in that way is such a great reward. So thank you very much.
Alan Graham: (48:21)
Thanks Rob, David and Mark
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